So earlier today I attended a literary event at Book Carnival, a small shop in Orange, Cal. that specializes in mysteries and suspense.
I was there because an author I’m friendly with, the excellent Kaira Rouda, was one of two writers speaking on a new release, and, well, I know what it is to do a bookshop appearance if your name isn’t Michael Lewis or Steven King or any of the Fox News twats. And here’s what it is: Primal fear. Nerves. Anxiety. What if nobody comes? What if one person comes, and he’s there by accident? What if two people come, and they’re there because they want to make fun of me? What if the shop owners pities me and has me speak to an empty room? What if I say something mental? What if I freeze? What if everything goes wrong? Is this a mistake? Jesus—I’m sure this is a mistake. Fuck, fuck, fuck …
I’ve written eight books, and I’ve lived nearly every signing disaster under the sun. The absolute worst happened about a decade ago. I was at the Fort Hood military base, promoting “Boys Will Be Boys,” my biography of the ’90s Dallas Cowboys. The HarperCollins publicist at the time told me she had lined up a great gig—”Military base, lots of sports fans. It’ll be great!”
(Note: They always say “it’ll be great.” Always. Book shop appearances. Malls. Panels. CVS blood drive. Wherever you are sent, a publicist will always promise greatness. Which I don’t resent at all, because publicists are paid to be optimistic.)
OK, dandy. I’m excited. Military base! Football fans! Whoring! I’m in Dallas, wake up at 5 am to make the drive. I arrive at Fort Hood, ready and anxious. I’d even done an interview with the base’s newspaper, hyping the event. “I’m excited to speak with the troops,” I say. “It should be lots of fun.”
I’m picturing a room. Forty, fifty chairs, filled with soldiers happy to take a break for the norm.
I arrive. I’m directed to Fort Hood’s Wall-Mart equivalent—enormous store with plaid shirts and toothbrushes and plastic nonsense. In the front there’s a stack of, oh, 200 books. “You’ll sit here,” I’m told.
Uh … what?
“We’re very excited,” a man says. “We don’t get many celebrities here.”
Uh … what?
I’m sitting, pen in hand. The awkward looks begin as shoppers pass. The expression is unmistakable—”Who the heck is this guy, and how can we pass without making eye contact.” They pass without making eye contact. Then—the announcement. “ATTENTION CUSTOMERS! JEFF PEARLMAN IS APPEARING IN THE FRONT OF THE STORE, SIGNING HIS NEW BOOK! JEFF PEARLMAN …”
I want to run. Hide. Scream. Cry. I’m booked for four hours. Four hours. I call my wife—”You’re not gonna believe this …”
I sell four books.
So—yeah. I’ve been there, and if I’m friendly with an author who’s having an event, I try my best to show support. So I showed support. Got there early. Plenty of parking—bad sign. The store was located in a small strip mall, alongside a gun shop—bad sign. The store was pretty empty—bad sign.
Then I entered. And a bunch of people entered. Kaira and the other author, D.P. Lyle, were positioned at a table in the front of the shop, and I’d say, oh, 15 people sat and watched and listened. It was genuinely riveting stuff—about fiction, about the process, about the highs and lows of book selling. Both authors seem to truly love writing, and we all felt that glow. It was a celebration of pen to paper, of fingers to laptop. There’s something uniquely blissful in being a writer, and hearing peers explain their process, their pain, their satisfaction. We write different stuff, but the emotions are generally quite similar. You think your work is great. No, it sucks. Yes, it’s great. No, it really sucks. It pierces you, crushes you, lifts you.
Then, ultimately, you somehow create this object. This book.
Then, when you’re ready, you sit before a crowd of strangers and celebrate it.